The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
What baseball needs now are more "characters" of the game

At a time when MLB is trying to address improvements that will bring more fans, especially younger ones, one of the things missing are “characters” of the game. Major league baseball has become too stodgy.

In the good old days, baseball’s captivating personalities were players and managers like Mark Fidrych, Al Hrabosky, Casey Stengel, Billy Martin, Jim Piersall, Joe Charboneau, and Bill Lee. They were always good for some type of antic on the field or in the clubhouse, a good quote, or a run-in with an umpire. They endeared themselves to fans and the media because they were outlandish, outspoken, and sometimes outcasts. They had a way of getting fans revved up at the stadium. They would mix it up with the media, or entertain their teammates in the clubhouse.

The current trend toward a more analytical approach to the game is ruining much of the charm of the game. Major-league front offices being run by MBAs are typically all business, and that has carried over into the clubhouse. Competition for roster spots is stiff; players don’t want to risk standing out because of a perceived quirky personality. In the past, it seemed like every club had at least one prankster, someone who could get away with being a bit whacky. Spontaneity seems to be missing. In the case of managers, the media questions every decision, and they have few opportunities to demonstrate charisma.

The type of players I’m talking about are not your Derek Jeters and Cal Ripkens, who were models of professionalism and consistency. They were great teammates but were not the sort who would set fire to a teammate’s shoelaces in the dugout or place a wad of chewing gum on the top of a teammate’s cap while he is not paying attention.

Perhaps the best way to depict the kind of characters I’m referring to is to give some examples from the past.

Jim Piersall, who actually suffered from diagnosed mental problems early in his career in the 1950s, maintained his whacky personality after his recovery. He was often viewed as a rebel of conformity. On one occasion he circled the bases running backwards after hitting a home run.

Al Hrabosky, a Cardinals relief pitcher in the 1970s, was nicknamed “Mad Hungarian” because of the way he would stomp around the mound, pounding his glove as though he was angry.

On his way to winning the 1976 American League Rookie of the Year award, Detroit’s Mark Fydrich gained national popularity for talking to the baseball while on the mound, as if to offer it encouragement. His notoriety became even more noteworthy when he acquired the nickname “The Bird” because of his resemblance to the “Big Bird” character on the Sesame Street television program.

Bill Lee, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos from 1969 to 1982, was famous for wearing various paraphernalia on the mound, including a gas mask, a Daniel Boone cap, and a beanie with a propeller. On one occasion he even wore an astronaut suit, which gained him the nickname “Spaceman.”

In the ‘80s and ‘90s Roger McDowell’s pranks included lighting firecrackers in the dugout. He wrapped a wad of chewing gum around a cigarette, then secretly place the contraption on the heels of unsuspecting teammates' cleats—better known as the hot foot. Once, during a nationally televised game, the pitcher was filmed with his uniform on upside down—his pants over his head with his shoes on his hands.

Joe Charboneau quickly became a fan favorite in his Rookie of the Year season with the Cleveland Indians in 1980. Charboneau was dyeing his hair bright colors long before NBA wildman Dennis Rodman came along. He was the subject of a song, "Go Joe Charboneau,” that reached No. 3 on the local charts.

Jay Johnstone, who played for eight teams during 1966 to 1985, had the reputation as the ultimate prankster. One of his best shenanigans was dressing up as a groundskeeper during the fifth inning of a game to take part in dragging the infield. He got dressed again in his uniform, went back to the dugout, and later hit a pinch-hit home run. His book Temporary Insanity chronicled many of his antics.

Casey Stengel, the charismatic manager of the New York Yankees from 1949 to 1960, was a favorite of the New York press, because he was always good for a quote, often expressed in a disjointed manner of speech. He once tried to convince the media he made decisions for the team by using a crystal ball.

Billy Martin and Tommy Lasorda were other managers who frequently captured the spotlight: Martin, for his dirt-kicking disputes with umpires, and Lasorda, with his verbose nature, for never dodging a camera.

Dizzy Dean, Bob Uecker, Harry Caray, Mickey Hatcher, and Oil Can Boyd were a few of the other personalities in the game who gained reputations for their propensity to clown around.

There have been a couple of recent players who seem to enjoy the game a little differently from everyone else. Yet they are few and far between.

When Yasiel Puig initially came to the Los Angeles Dodgers from Cuba in 2013, he played with emotion and celebrated on the field in ways that many fans felt disrespected the traditions of the game. He could be seen licking his bat as he approached the batter’s box and wagging his tongue in his celebrations on the bases. He’s shown more maturity in his later years, much to the chagrin of some of his following.

Hunter Pence gained popularity for his high-energy, emotional leadership and motivation for the teams he played for, especially the San Francisco Giants. His teammates loved playing with him, while fans also became energized by his fun-loving personality which was often on display through social media. He added to his persona by letting hair and beard grow out. He retired from the game after the 2020 season.

Baseball still needs its Derek Jeters and long-standing traditions. But it should always have a place for a Mad Hungarian, a Big Bird, and a Spaceman, who often cast traditions aside and made the game fun.

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